Montgomery, Alabama: Discovering The Rich, And Hot Dog Serious, Food Scene

Sure, you're familiar with Nashville and Atlanta. But what about the smaller southern cities packing just as much flavor? In this new monthly series, Chris Chamberlain takes a look at a region of the South that is most certainly worth traveling to for the food.

There isn't an Southeastern Conference school in Montgomery, but half a million people will probably travel through the fourth largest city in Alabama during the month of April since it's located on the main artery between the Florida Panhandle and the rest of the SEC. In Birmingham they love the governor, but he lives in Montgomery since it is the capital city of the state. Rosa Parks refused to take a seat on the back of a bus there in 1955, and the resulting protests introduced the world to a local minister named King, events that are memorialized in a stunning and sobering Maya Lin sculpture downtown. But that's about everything most folks know about this city.

What they're missing is a surprisingly vibrant dining scene. Since the city is about equidistant between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa — about a hundred miles away from both — you'll find good barbecue at outposts of those cities' most famous pits, Jim 'N Nick's and Dreamland respectively. Both serve very respectable `cue, but for the best of local meat look for Bradshaw's BBQ or Fat Boy's BBQ Ranch. Bradshaw's calls itself "The Butt Hut," and their shoulder sandwich is rivaled only by the `nanner puddin' at the end of the meal. You can even buy an entire smoked butt to go if you want to fool your fellow tailgaters into thinking you spent twenty hours smoking their dinner. Fat Boy's BBQ Ranch is actually a few miles north of Montgomery in Prattville, but it's worth the drive to the smoke shack with a dirt parking lot and a few picnic tables for the best brisket and smoked sausage in the area code.

An unexpected local treasure is Chris' World Famous Hot Dogs which will celebrate 96 years of serving downtown Montgomery diners this coming May. Hank Williams Sr. himself spent many a late night in Chris' around the corner from Dr. King's church listening to the Rockola jukebox and drinking strong liquor drinks to wash down some of those famous hot dogs.

What makes the wieners special is the legendary chili sauce, a unique thin concoction of chili powder, hot sauce, mustard, ketchup, bbq sauce, Worcestershire and any number of other secret ingredients that together are so addictive as to make fans buy it by the gallon and ship the dogs all over the country.

If you're not in the mood for a great hot dog (well, what the hell is the matter with you?!), then fine dining is also readily available in Montgomery. In the past, locals looking for great food would have gotten on the Atlanta Highway and followed it all the way to Atlanta, but now there are two excellent destinations on the road still within city limits. One is white tablecloth fancy and the other is bistro casual in a surprising locale.

Garrett's-The Art of Food features a sleek metropolitan art deco décor and the food of experienced chef/owner Gary Garner. Probably the most romantic special occasion restaurant in town, Garret's serves a sophisticated menu of fusion cuisine with a special emphasis on seafood since the Gulf of Mexico is only a few hours away. Just about a mile down the Atlanta Highway is Wishbone Café, an upscale casual bistro located in the still barely-recognizable shell of a former Quizno's.

Initially using the same cooking equipment that pumped out sandwiches and wraps, the talented chefs at Wishbone developed a menu of inventive Cajun dishes like a Blackened Tilapia Filet and a plate of grilled shrimp and scallops with sautéed peppers and mushrooms they call the Louis Armstrong. Creative soup specials like a Collard Green Soup and Purple Hull Pea Soup keep regulars calling ahead to check on their favorites.

Perhaps the most surprising restaurant find in Montgomery is a tiny little spot called D'Road Café. An abbreviation for the unfortunate former name of Dirt Road Diner, this little Latin gem is also located on the Atlanta Highway. Besides serving a great Southern breakfast of bacon, eggs and grits, D'Road also offers Venezuelan morning treats like arepas and empanadas. At lunch diners choose from beef, chicken and pork specials complemented with an array of baked, steamed and grilled vegetables that could fill a farmers' market. You won't find a fryer anywhere on the premises. The regular dinner menu is highlighted by an outstanding pepito steak sandwich spiced up with vegetables, cheese, garlic, cilantro and parsley. It's definitely not date food, but it is a delicious mess. Every Friday is "International Night" at this already eclectic restaurant with the kitchen featuring dishes from around the world. As if Venezuelan wasn't exotic enough for the diners of Montgomery, D'Road Café really pushes the envelope with this popular culinary tour.

So if you feel some pangs of hunger on the way home from the beach, pull off of Interstate 65 and shake the sand out of your shoes before you step into any of these excellent dining destinations.

Bradshaw's BBQ

3250 Wetumpka Hwy.

Montgomery, AL 36110

(334) 274-9890

Fat Boy's BBQ Ranch

154 1st St.

Prattville, AL 36067

(334) 358-4227

Chris' World Famous Hot Dogs

138 Dexter Ave.

Montgomery, AL 36104

(334) 265-6850

Garrett's-The Art of Food

7780 Atlanta Hwy

Montgomery, AL 36117

(334) 396-9950

Wishbone Café

7028 Atlanta Hwy

Montgomery, AL 36117

(334) 244-7270

D'Road Café

6250 Atlanta Hwy

Montgomery, AL 36117